Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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Spotlight on Mental Health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

wool-2742119_1280Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 1 – October 7) is an annual national public education campaign designed to create awareness of mental illness. Although there are many faces of mental illness, I’d like to spotlight Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is often greatly misunderstood. OCD can affect anyone, and according to the Canadian Psychological Association approximately 1% to 2% of the Canadian population will have an episode of OCD in their lifetime.

What is OCD?

OCD is made up of two parts – obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive thoughts, urges or images that don’t go away. Compulsions are behaviours like washing, cleaning or ordering things in a certain way. Over 90% of people with clinical OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, with 25% to 50% reporting multiple obsessions. Although many people who suffer from OCD are aware that their obsessions and compulsions don’t make sense, they still can’t control them. While we often associate OCD with people who wash their hands constantly, are germ phobic or refuse to shake hands, sadly, people with OCD are frequently the butt-end of jokes. We know that OCD is anything but funny; in fact, it is often a debilitating mental illness that severely affects a person’s ability to enjoy life.

Additionally, OCD often interferes with work and negatively impacts relationships. In severe cases, obsessive thoughts and repetitive, compulsive rituals can consume the entire day, making it difficult to hold down a job or maintain personal relationships.

What causes OCD?

The cause of OCD has not been established. Studies have suggested that the cause may be genetic, biological and/or psychological, but as yet there is nothing definitive.

Some signs of OCD

In the workplace, you may notice:

  • Excessive hand washing and/or hand wringing
  • Refusal to shake hands
  • Everything on their desk has to be precisely arranged
  • May become visibly upset if you touch or move any of their things
  • Need to check and recheck their work
  • Late to meetings because of their need to “prepare” again and again
  • Appear to be lost in thought because of their obsessions

How best to support an employee with OCD

There are several effective ways to support an employee with OCD. An EAP is an excellent resource for a person suffering from OCD. You can also gently encourage your employee to seek medical help as medication and therapy can benefit the OCD sufferer. There are also modifications and accommodations that you can make to better support them at your organization:

  • Allow telecommuting
  • Issue deadlines as much in advance as possible
  • Try not to put the person in situations where frequent handshaking is expected
  • Make hand sanitizer readily available
  • Avoid disturbing the setup on the employee’s desk
  • Don’t ask to borrow their office supplies or equipment
  • If possible, avoid putting the employee in stressful situations as stress is a major trigger of OCD

Do you have a process in place to accommodate employees suffering from OCD or other forms of mental illness? If not, a referral to the EAP and the willingness to make modifications in the workplace will go a long way to setting up employees for success and ensuring that your employees are feeling supported by their employer.

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See The Signs – Recognizing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

mental-healthJust a few weeks ago at a high school outside of Toronto, a fourteen-year-old girl stabbed and injured five students and two staff members. As a result, there has been more dialogue about bullying, mental illness and mental health, as we are reminded of the importance and seriousness of attending to mental illness in the workplace.

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Stigma surrounding mental illness is widespread, often flying under the radar in the workplace because employees tend to suffer in silence – afraid to risk their careers by speaking out and employers are afraid to ask. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing serious situations from developing, and ensuring supports are in place.

Being able to recognize when your employees are distressed, and addressing these concerns, can help to break down the stigma and allow for communication between you and your staff. Let me share with you some tips on recognizing the symptoms of a possible mental health issue with an employee:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Absent or late more frequently
  • Relationship issues or conflicts with co-workers
  • Withdrawal or reduced participation
  • Anxiety, fearfulness, or loss of confidence

Each of these signs alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of an illness, but each can begin a conversation to show your employee, as their employer, that you are supportive and accommodating, especially if performance is suffering. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a caring environment and the probability of their success will increase as well.

Social media can be helpful in providing insight, as the young woman’s blog was her cry for help in the case of the Dunbarton High School stabbing. It is crucial for an organization to be trained and able to identify the signs of an employee who may be in danger of hurting themselves and/or others due to their mental state.

Early recognition of mental health problems, consultation for your supervisors with your EAP, referring employees with the above symptoms to the EAP for assessment, treatment and support, will all help your employees receive the support they require to return to work and/or better manager their job.

The bottom line here is that when your organization creates a mentally healthy work environment for your employees, it allows them to achieve and maintain success.

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Get Involved In Support Of Mental Illness Awareness Week

MIAW-posterThere are literally hundreds of events and activities taking place this week across Canada in support of Mental Illness Awareness Week. As the owner of an EAP, I want to support these activities and share with you a few ideas on how to promote mental illness awareness within your organization.

Mental illness has often been referred to as the faceless disorder because it is truly hard to tell if a person is suffering from a variety of disorders that affect thinking, behaviour, or mood. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem, the significant stigma associated with it results in deeper suffering and a resistance to wanting to share diagnoses.

For employers, mental illness costs Canadian businesses more than $6 billion a year, and it is the #1 cause of short- and long-term disability in Canada.

Knowing your employees suffering from mental illness may be afraid to reach out for help, as a leader within your organization, you can help them by promoting awareness of mental health and illness within your company. Here are a few ideas I’d like to share with you to help you support your teams.

  1. Get Decision-Makers Involved 

As with any organization-wide initiative, it starts with a top-down approach of the organization. Provide information to your managerial staff to raise awareness about the issue and ask for their involvement in planned activities. Your key decision-makers are the driving force of the organization, and so their support and participation is needed for awareness to be raised across the entire organization.

  1. Engage Your Employees

You can get your staff involved and feeling supported by informing them of upcoming community events or by planning internal activities within your organization.


External Events:

Fortunately, there are numerous MIAW events that run from October 4th to 10th, but you can get your team involved at anytime. Start by selecting a few events and then presenting the opportunities to participate in these as a company team, maybe even as an event sponsor! You can use this as a team-building exercise and at the same time bring awareness about this issue.

Here is a list of just a few events happening across Canada:

  • The Centre for Addiction and Mental Healthhas a list of resources and events that are accessible throughout the year, such as Mindfest, which is an all-day mental health and wellness fair hosted by the University of Toronto at Hart House in October.
  • The Canadian Mental Health Association organizes a list of events that run across Canada. For example in Ontario, there is the Consensus Conference on the Mental Health of Emerging Adults: Making Transitions a Priority in Canadathat takes place November 2-4, 2015. In British Columbia, there is an upcoming event, Mental Health Works – Solutions for Responding to Mental Health at Work, set to take place on November 30th this year. CMHA has many provincial divisions so it is very likely that there are events being run near you.

Host internal activities:

Plan activities within your organization designed to support employees that are suffering from feelings of isolation or depression. For example, host a “pot luck lunch” or “animal picture” day. You might want to have a brainstorming session with your employees to decide on the best activity for your organization.

As the leader in your organization, you might want to consider:

  • A Lunch and Learn session: Speak to your EAP provider to discuss having a professional speaker come in to talk to on the issue of mental illness.
  • Send daily mental health awareness emails to staff during MIAW. The emails would be short, inspirational while also offering them support by linking them to your EAP provider for confidential support.
  • Create a “video lunch” – show a short, informative or inspiring video that could be shown during lunchtime or sent via email. Here are some examples of videosthat could be shown.
  • Reward your employees for their work – it goes a long way.
  1. Bring in outside support

Mental illness is a big issue to tackle, but fortunately there are resources available to help. Your EAP will provide access to workshops, counselling, and services designed to raise awareness, provide support, and treat mental illnesses.

It is important that there is an open dialogue about mental health and illness in the workplace. Learning more about your employees and their needs could help you make the most beneficial decisions to increase mental health and overall happiness in your workplace.

What are some of the ways that your business has incorporated mental health and illness education?

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Robin Williams: Depression in the Spotlight

Robin-Williams-diedAlthough people suffer from depression everywhere and too many individuals decide to take their own lives as a result of their pain, mental illness will always get the spotlight when society loses a well-known figure to suicide.

While we probably don’t know him personally, we feel close to Robin Williams through his various movie and comedic roles. Whether you remember him best as Mork, the Genie, Mrs. Doutbfire, English teacher John Keating or Dr. Sean Maguire, Robin William’s warmth was always felt by his fans through the decades.

As the details of Robin William’s suicide surface, many have wondered how someone could bring so much joy to others around the world while quietly suffering from his own demons. Williams was believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder, an illness defined by its range of manic and depressive mood swings. It appears as though Williams had been battling an extended period of severe depression when he decided to take his own life.

What Robin Williams’ death most poignantly illustrates is that depression can overwhelm even successful, talented, wealthy and perceivably happy individuals. There is no common denominator or predictor of who can suffer depression, and everyone has a unique experience with the illness, where sometimes medications, treatments and coping skills are simply no match. For whatever reason, Williams felt that suicide was his only way to find relief from his suffering, and he is not alone in this feeling.

Can anything be learned from the terrible loss of this well-loved actor, as well the loss of so many whose names we don’t know and will never have the chance to meet?

For those who are suffering, perhaps it is the realization that, while your feelings of sadness are yours and are valid, you are not alone.

For those who know a loved one is suffering, we must learn to reach out, again and again and again, to show them how much they are loved.

Amongst the posts I’ve read over the past few days commemorating Robin Williams, nothing struck me as strongly as the following:

“If you feel isolated, I see you. If you wonder whether it all matters, I will help you find out. If you feel worthless, know that you are valued by me. If you feel the darkness closing in, there is always a little light. I will walk with you there.”

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Back To School!

back-to-school1The 4-year old beginning school for the first time; the 6-year old starting Grade 1; the 14-year old beginning High School; the 18-year old starting College or University.  Yes, it is an exciting time for every student, but what they also share in common is anxiety due to the anticipation of a new environment and fear of the unknown.

As I write this blog a week before school starts, we should remind ourselves that the transition period to these new beginnings can be anxiety-provoking for most students, while overwhelming and even traumatic for others. For most people, It is all too easy to remember the anxiety often felt on Labour Day before the first day of school.

Although research shows that students experience anxiety adjusting to their first year at College and University (Canadian Organization of University College Health, June 2013), there is growing evidence that suggests the rate at which anxiety is affecting students at the High School (McGill University, April 2013) level and even as far back as Kindergarten (Canadian Paediatric Society, 2009) is increasing.

The good news is that usually this anxiety is transient, and its shelf life will terminate once the unknown becomes clear and familiarity sets in for the student.  But for some students, the period of adjustment will take longer to work through and can have numerous negative consequences including:

  • distraction
  • loss of concentration
  • falling behind in school
  • isolation
  • loneliness

As a parent, the role you play in your child’s transition periods is crucial. To learn how you can help your child cope with their new beginnings this fall,  visit the following link.

How do you support your children through periods of anxiety and discomfort brought on by new beginnings or experiences? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!